Friday, March 25, 2011

Cherry Blossoms for Japan

It's cherry blossom season, and in Japan that has special significance. Even more this year, as they mourn their losses and cling to hope for rebuilding a strong future. Cherry blossom haiku has a long history, going back to the 17th c, masters. These spring haiku have a particularly delicate, exquisite, joyful aroma mixed with the sadness of life's brevity and fragility. Seems perfect for these days. Here are some of my favorite cherry blossom haiku by the Japanese poet Basho: (photos are mine, from 2008)

cherry blossoms in sun

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

crab apple
From all these trees –
in salads, soups, everywhere –
cherry blossoms fall

 my steps

For a lovely bowl
let us arrange these flowers...
Since there is no rice

April 11 019

Silent the old town . . .
the scent of flowers floating . . .
And evening bell

Ah, the sadness and the sweetness! Take a moment to enjoy some tiny pleasure - one day's blossom worth of joy.

Poetry Friday is rounded up at A Year of Reading today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hosting Friday Poetry: Between Two Souls

Our minds and hearts have been so much focused on Japan and the natural disasters of earthquake and tsunami extended into the nightmare of nuclear reactor fires in the past week. I have been reading the poetry of 19th c. Buddhist monk and poet Ryokan. I have an interesting volume of poetry by both Ryokan and the 21th c. Benedictine monk Mary Lou Kownacki, where she complements his poems with poetry of her own. She spent a couple years meditating on his works and writing poetic responses. She was living in an inner city convent at the time and her poems are vibrant, immediate and gritty, full of sirens and neighborhood children's cries. Ryokan was living in a monk's hut on a mountain in Japan at the time of his writing, and his poems are full of village children's laughter and the immediate rhythms of nature; drizzling rain, plum blossoms, cold nights, lonely crickets and thin porridge. The call and response between the voices across centuries, faith traditions and continents is startling. One of my favorite pairs:

The plants and flowers
I raised about my hut
I now surrender
to the will
of the wind.


The tulips and daffodils
I planted in my front yard
I now surrender
To the mercy
Of neighborhood children.

-Mary Lou Kownacki
crocus group

These poems seem especially poignant to me now, when I am praying for an East wind to blow across Sendai to disperse contaminants, and at this time of year when there are crocuses bursting out of the mud just when hoards of children rampage through my backyard leaping like spring colts from the stalls.

partly sunny

Look for the book Between Two Souls; Conversations with Ryokan by Mary Lou Kownacki for more of that thought-provoking loveliness.

Don't miss the Kidlit4Japan auction organized by Greg R. Fishbone, starting today. Authors, illustrators and other Children's Literature people are donating items and services with all proceeds going to benefit the victims of the recent tragedies in Japan. More ways to help Japan are listed at the Paper Tigers blog, including a New Sun rising writer's anthology you can submit too and several other auctions done by artists, authors, and editors in the book world. great opportunities to get involved there! If you know of other events being organized leave me a comment and I will add links and info here.

And now, on with the show! The Friday Poetry round up is right here today! Leave your name (with the author or title of your poetry post) and the direct URL to your Friday Poetry post. Be sure to come back later and visit around the other blogs linked here to enjoy poetry all weekend!

1.Gregory K. - 60 poems/2 links18.The Poem Farm (Book Relatives)35.Rasco from RIF (My Taxi Ride)
2.Tabatha (Li- Young Lee)19.Irene Latham (poem attributed to Mark Twain)36.Katie @ Secrets and Sharing Soda
3.Mary Lee (Pied Beauty)20.Karen Edmisten (Marianne Moore) 37.Charles Ghigna
4.Ruth (Musee des Beaux Arts)21.100 Scope Notes (Book Spine Poem: The Mix- Up)38.Jennie from Biblio File (The Dreamer)
5.Debbie Diller (How to Talk to Your Snowman)22.jone (sneak peek)39.Tara (A Cynthia Rylant poem)
6.The Stenhouse Blog (Poison Ivy)23.david e (mooncatching)40.Kelly Fineman (Wordsworth - Daffodils)
7.Sara Lewis Holmes (Teaching the Girls)24.Blythe Woolston (A revision lesson from Edward Lear)41.Nicole Marie Schreiber ("A Prayer in Spring"
8.KK's Kwotes (X.J. Kennedy quote) 25.Dori Reads (Poems About Fire)42.Theresa
9.Kurious Kitty (Knock at a Star) 26.Wild Rose Reader (Early Drafts of Two End- of- Winter Poems)43.Brenda (Proseand Kahn)
10.Diane Mayr (Sidewalk poems)27.Books Dogs and Frogs (Snack Smasher)44.Picture Book of the Day (It's Time to Sleep, My Love)
11.jama (three basho haiku)28.Sylvia (Poetry Tag eBook)45.Judy@ Learning (Dirge Without Music)
12.Barbara29.Mother Reader (Dazzling Display of Dogs)46.Carol
13.Sally (Paper Tigers) - call for poems for Japan anthology fundraiser30.Blue Rose Girls (Things to Do If You Are the Ocean: An Original List Poem)47.Beth (Library Chicken) Working Words
14.Sally Thomas@ Castle In the Sea (Diaries of Barbara Pym Edition)31.Political Verses (Scott and Dot: A Feminist Nursery Rhyme by J. Patrick Lewis)48.Jane Buttery
15.Pentimento32.Carlie (an original poem )49.You're next!
16.Emily Jiang33.Barbara Etlin  
17.Heidi Mordhorst (Life in Me Like Grass on Fire)34.Janet Squires  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dave the Potter; Artist, Poet, Slave

by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown and Company. 2010. (Library copy). Stunningly illustrated picture book in verse, presenting the life and work of poet/potter Dave. Born in slavery around 1800, Dave has come to be known as one of the most important potters of the 19th c. in the area of Edgefiel, South Carolina. Laban Carrick Hill became interested in him after hearing a talk on his pottery and seeing one of Dave's poems engraved in the sides of the pots. Not only did he specialize in crafting large, beautiful pots, but he wrote poems and included them by scratching them into the sides of the pots. In the back of this picture book Hill gives a short biography and quotes many of the poems found on the pottery. He says,
"Dave created his art in spite of a society that not only discouraged his brilliance but threatened him with death for expressing it."
The poem written by Hill as the text of this book is simple, clear description that rings with strength and beauty:

"On wet days,
heavy with rainwater,
it is cool and squishy,
mud pie heaven.

but to Dave
it was clay,
the plain and basic stuff
upon which he learned to
form a life
as a slave neraly two hundred years ago."
Perfectly complemented by Collier's gorgeous collage paintings, this book is breathtaking and offers an alternate view of the power of art and poetry in the face of humanity's greatest cruelty. I especially like how the illustrations include words hidden in the texture of the backgrounds and objects, such as the words "Live Life" meshed into the woodwork of the barn wall. The fabulous fold-out spread showing Dave's hands shaping a lump of clay into a pot is riveting. Children and adults alike will love this book and want to read and savor it over and over.

Links & awards:
School Library Journal interview with Laban Carrick Hill
New York Times review
New York Times Bestseller
2011 Caldecott Honor
2011 Coretta Scott King Gold Award for Illustrations
Chicago Public Library's 2010 Best of the Best List
New York Public Library's 2010 Best 100 Books of the Year
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2011

Poetry Friday is being hosted by Liz @ Liz in Ink. Go see what other poetry is being shared today!

Stop by here next week for the round up being held at A Wrung Sponge Friday, March 18. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


by Laurie Halse Anderson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. (Library copy). Forge is the sequel to Anderson's Chains, which was reviewed by me in June of 2009. I love this series about African American teens during the American Revolution in 1776-78. In Forge, Curzon, the free black man we met in the first book in Boston, is now outside of Philadelphia trying to find Isabel again after they got separated. He joins up with the American soldiers in order to escape being captured into slavery and spends the winter in Valley Forge. History comes alive as you share in the hardships of standing in the snow barefoot and looking forward to shoe-leather soup for supper. The dedication and determination of the Patriots fighting for freedom is accentuated by the thoughtful and perceptive reporting done by Curzon.

My favorite parts are the descriptions of how they build the log cabins at Valley Forge and the trials and hopes of the soldiers as they each meet challenges and struggles on their own terms. I grew up not far from there and we often went on family picnics in that National Park. We have photos of all us kids running circles around the massive chestnut trees that still stand along the road. Reading now about the soldiers shivering in that long winter and determined to win their freedom makes it very real to me. I think it's time I took my young sons for a trip again to see the park.

By the end of the book it turns out Isabel comes to Valley Forge too, in service to one of the officers working with Washington. They negotiate a rocky peace between them and begin to make plans... The book ends in a cliff hanger leaving me hungry for the next installment. This would be a great book for young adult book clubs.It's exciting and very readable. Highly recommended!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Review: Freight Train app

My kids and I have been enjoying the new(ish) Freight Train by Donald Crews app for iPhone/iPod Touch. Freight Train was first published in 1978 and is a Caldecott Honor Book and ALA Notable Book. I got a review copy of the app a few weeks ago and we've been playing with it. Both of my boys love trains and the print book has always been a favorite of ours. Now that we have it on the iPod they go back and forth between playing with it on the iTouch, where you can listen to train songs and make things happen on the screen while the text is read, and reading it to each other in the print book at bedtime story time. I am happy to see they love both versions equally and when combined the different modalities of app and paper compliment each other very well.

The artwork in the print version is still stunning. The colors are so vibrant they jump right off the page. I adore the way the smoke rolls off the engine as the train moves from page to page, in and out of sunshine and shadow. Now that we have done the app a number of times I can hear the bells and whistles playing while turning paper pages. Somehow the pictures are still more beautiful on paper than they are on the screen.

On the iPod the touch of a finger makes cargo jump in and out of the cars, calls up moo cows, open doors, and rings the bell. There are English and Spanish versions sold separately, but I wish you could do both on the same app. All in all it is very enchanting.

Here is a preview of the app on YouTube:

And here is a video of the author Donald Crews trying out the app on an iPad:

You can find the app in the App Store or at Curious Puppy.

The round up for Nonfiction Monday is over at Picture Book of the Day. Enjoy!

Friday, March 04, 2011

First crocus haiku

crocus 5

doorstep crocus buds -
in my rush to get there
tripped by sunshine

-Andromeda Jazmon

lavendar crocus

stretched tall -
lavender crocus buds
hopeful recruits

-Andromeda Jazmon

I took these crocus photos a couple years ago on just such a March day as we are having today. Something brave and hopeful in me wakes up in this kind of sunshine, and opens again like the first crocus. Thanks be to God!

Enjoy more poetry over at The Small Nouns, where Friday Poetry is hosted today.